Misoprostol for treatment of postpartum hemorrhage added to WHO Essential Medicines List

Shafia Rashid is senior program officer for Global Advocacy at Family Care International.

For more than five years, FCI has been working with Gynuity Health Projects and other partners to build the evidence base for expanded availability and use of misoprostol for the prevention and treatment of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). PPH is the leading cause of maternal death, and misoprostol is a safe, effective medicine that is especially practical in low-resource settings, because it is available as a tablet and does not require refrigeration or injection.

This week marked an important milestone in global efforts to make misoprostol available to the women who need it, as the World Health Organization (WHO) approved its inclusion on the Model List of Essential Medicines (EML) for the treatment of PPH. Misoprostol was included on the EML for prevention of PPH in 2011, and the recent decision signifies WHO’s full endorsement of misoprostol as an essential maternal health medicine in settings where oxytocin — which requires cold storage and intravenous injection — is not available or cannot be used safely. The WHO Expert Committee for the Selection and Use of Essential Medicines, a panel that meets every two years to update the EML, recommended that misoprostol be listed for the additional indication of treating PPH[1] and retained on the list for prevention of PPH. Continue reading “Misoprostol for treatment of postpartum hemorrhage added to WHO Essential Medicines List”

Managing postpartum hemorrhage at home deliveries in Chitral, Pakistan

By Meagan Byrne, Program Assistant, Gynuity Health Projects

This post originally appeared on the Maternal Health Task Force blog.

In Chitral district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Province, Pakistan, a high rate of home births translates to inadequate or nonexistent treatment for life-threatening obstetric complications, like postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). According to the 2012-13 Pakistan DHS report, nearly two-thirds of women deliver at home in rural areas of KP province.

Customarily, home births are managed by a traditional birth attendant (TBA) and if a complication like PPH arises, the only care available is to transfer the woman to a higher level facility or have a skilled provider called to the woman’s home to administer oxytocin as treatment. In Chitral, many villages are located far from health centers and access to care is especially difficult due to poor infrastructure and limited transport. Faced with these barriers, women who develop PPH are rarely transferred to a facility, so having treatment options available at home is critical.

Misoprostol, a prostaglandin analog that reduces blood loss after delivery, is a useful drug in this setting because it requires neither cold storage nor a skilled attendant to administer it. A recent study—implemented in Chitral by Gynuity Health Projects and Aga Khan Health Service, Pakistan—explored the feasibility of providing misoprostol to traditional birth attendants and having them administer it to prevent and treat PPH in home deliveries.

In this study, women received misoprostol prophylaxis (a 3-tablet dose) and in the event of PPH, the TBA administered a treatment dose of misoprostol with referral to a higher level of care. Study trainings reiterated the importance of transfer if a woman experiences a delivery complication. Despite prophylaxis, there were women who were diagnosed with PPH and received study treatment. The study confirmed that TBAs are able to administer misoprostol correctly and safely for both prophylaxis and treatment.

There has been an increase in the number of facility-based deliveries worldwide; yet for many women, a facility delivery is not an option. Among women in our study who had planned to have a facility delivery, many delivered at home due to road blocks, unavailable transportation, or unavailability of a family member to accompany them to the facility.

There will always be women who will not be able to deliver at a facility, despite plan to do so. Among women who deliver at home and experience PPH, many will experience delays or will never be transferred to a health facility. For these women, it is imperative to have a treatment option available at the community level since the average time from onset of PPH to death is only two hours.

The following video showcases infrastructure barriers to safe delivery and expresses the thoughts of TBAs and other healthcare providers on access to obstetric services in Chitral and the use of misoprostol to manage PPH.

 

This post is part of the blog series “Increasing access to maternal and reproductive health supplies: Leveraging lessons learned in preventing maternal mortality,” hosted by the Maternal Health Task Force, Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition/Maternal Health Supplies CaucusFamily Care International and the USAID-Accelovate program at Jhpiego which discusses the importance and methods of reaching women with lifesaving reproductive and maternal health supplies in the context of the proposed new global target of fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 births by 2030. To contribute a post, contact Katie Millar.

Misoprostol for postpartum hemorrhage: translating promise into reality

By Melissa Wanda, Advocacy Officer, Family Care International – Kenya

This post originally appeared on the Maternal Health Taskforce blog.

In Kenya, where I work as an advocate for women’s health and rights, women continue to die during pregnancy and childbirth at alarming rates. Approximately 25% of these deaths are due to heavy bleeding following childbirth, also known as postpartum hemorrhage or PPH. More than half of women deliver at home; that proportion can be even higher in some counties with limited infrastructure and predominantly rural populations. Even in cases where a woman arrives to a health facility in time, she can still face significant barriers to receive the care she needs:

  • supplies needed for childbirth—such as a blood pressure cuff or clean gloves—may not be available;
  • essential medicines—such as oxytocin or misoprostol, which can prevent or treat postpartum bleeding—may be in short supply; and
  • a skilled health provider may not be present to provide the care a woman needs to have a safe delivery.

A key strategy for improving maternal health is to ensure that every woman has access to effective medicines to prevent and treat PPH during childbirth. Oxytocin and misoprostol are proven, lifesaving medicines for the prevention and treatment of PPH. Misoprostol offers a number of advantages for women living in remote, rural areas: misoprostol does not need refrigeration, is available in tablet form and can, therefore, be administered with no specialized equipment or skills. Misoprostol provides an effective option for preventing and treating PPH in settings such as homes and health facilities lacking electricity, refrigeration and IV equipment.

For these reasons, Kenya’s Ministry of Health established a national-level task force to provide a common forum for addressing policy-level issues related to the use of misoprostol for the prevention and treatment of PPH. While misoprostol is registered in Kenya for the management of PPH, and national guidelines govern its use, studies have shown that misoprostol’s procurement and availability in public health facilities is irregular and inconsistent.

This national, multi-stakeholder task force—composed of government, NGO, research, faith-based and health profession representatives[1]—was tasked with spearheading access to and use of misoprostol for PPH. Beginning in 2014, the Misoprostol Task Force, convened by the ministry of health, met regularly to identify the key policy gaps at the national level and to take concrete action. Key policy priorities identified by the Task Force:

  • Harmonize the national clinical guidelines:  Kenya has numerous clinical management guidelines advising health professionals on how to administer misoprostol for all its indications (PPH, induction of labor and post-abortion care): the 2009 Clinical Guidelines for Management and Referral of Common Conditions at Levels 4-6 and the 2012 National Guidelines for Quality Obstetric and Perinatal Care. While these guidelines recommend the use of misoprostol to prevent and treat PPH when oxytocin is unavailable, they do not reflect the latest evidence and were inconsistent with each other. The Task Force developed a handout that harmonizes these different guidelines and produced a job aid for health workers. Both documents are waiting approval by the ministry of health; once approved, they will be disseminated at the national and sub-national/county levels.
  • Revise the national essential medicine list: While the Kenya Essential Medicine List(KEML, 2010) classifies misoprostol as a complementary and core[2] oxytocic drug, no specification is made for its use in PPH prevention or treatment. The Task Force drafted a letter to the National Medicines and Therapeutics Committee, to call for the addition of misoprostol to the KEML for PPH prevention and treatment at all levels of the health system. This letter will likely be deliberated by the committee when it meets this year to update the KEML.

Continued advocacy is still needed to ensure these positive developments in the Kenyan national policy framework translate into actual improvements in the availability and use of misoprostol. The Task Force has served as a critical forum for bringing together key stakeholders, promoting national level discussion and supporting effective action.

For more information and tools for conducting effective advocacy:

Scaling up Misoprostol for Postpartum Hemorrhage: Moving from Evidence to Action

Advocacy, Approval, Access: Misoprostol for Postpartum Hemorrhage A Guide for Effective Advocacy

This post is part of the blog series “Increasing access to maternal and reproductive health supplies: Leveraging lessons learned in preventing maternal mortality,” hosted by the Maternal Health Task Force, Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition/Maternal Health Supplies CaucusFamily Care International and the USAID-Accelovate program at Jhpiego which discusses the importance and methods of reaching women with lifesaving reproductive and maternal health supplies in the context of the proposed new global target of fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 births by 2030. To contribute a post, contact Katie Millar.

[1] Membership includes representatives from the Ministry of Health-Reproductive Maternal Health Services Unit, Family Care International-Kenya, PATH, Management Sciences for Health, the Population Council, UNFPA, AMREF, Institute of Family Medicine (INFAMED), Christian Health Association of Kenya (CHAK), Jhpiego, the World Health Organization and professional organizations of gynecologists and nurses.

[2] The Core List represents the priority needs for the health care system. Medicines on the Core List are considered to be the most efficacious, safe and cost‐effective; are expected to be routinely available in health facilities; and should be affordable to the majority of the population.  Complimentary medicines are essential medicines needed for specialized diagnostic or monitoring facilities, and/or specialist medical care, and/or specialist training.

Let’s reward the use of maternal health supplies

By Milka Dinev, LAC Forum Regional Advisor, Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition 

This post originally appeared on the Maternal Health Task Force blog.

During a donor visit to Peru in the year 2000, a maternal health supporter and friend saw that rural women in Peru were suffering and dying because they lacked access to safe maternal health services during the critical hours of childbirth. This young donor had recently had her children, so she decided to reward the unsung heroes who made extraordinary efforts to save the lives of women during childbirth. It would be the “Oscar” of maternal health and survival.

The Sarah Faith Award was created to promote and reward the extraordinary efforts made by health providers and communities to save the lives of mothers and their children. For ten years, this award provided funding and technical assistance to the health teams and communities that had demonstrated teamwork and solidarity. Most cases were heroic efforts – transporting a mother to a rural health facility on the shoulders of four or five men using a stretcher made of wood and blankets (or in a boat along the Amazon River) or a doctor/nurse giving his or her own blood for a much-needed transfusion. The award honored deserving teams with US$25,000 to improve their health facilities or their community services. This award was an extraordinary tool to improve morale among health providers and health promoters. Each winning team received a beautiful statue that they prominently displayed in their facility.

Yet, it is worthwhile to observe that an important selection criterion for the Sarah Faith Award is how applicants improved access to maternal health services. So what happens to women who do not have access to such heroes as the ones the Sarah Faith prize rewards? I do believe this is where supplies come into play, carrying out a crucial, lifesaving role. How many lives could be saved if pregnant women had free access to misoprostol in order to prevent postpartum hemorrhage during their home delivery, or if the nurse in the health facility could administer magnesium sulfate to women with pre-eclampsia to control their blood pressure? How many lives could be saved if oxytocin supplies were adequately refrigerated?

Arguably, services — with their immediate human element — make for better story-telling a lot of the time. And good storytelling is a mainstay of the marketing and publicity that surround award mechanisms. And by comparison, supplies often carry rather sterile connotations of warehouses, supply chains, and transportation.

Working at the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, I am often struck by the challenge of even finding a photo that adequately tells the supplies story. And yes, there is a supplies story however, there is no “supplies award”. There is very little we do in promoting morale and engagement among those that work to make supplies available, accessible and  affordable within a framework of quality and equity!

As far as maternal health supplies go, it is easy for groups to forget the role of the three key life-saving commodities and therefore fail to prioritize their presence in health facilities 100% of the time. Much of the assistance provided through the Sarah Faith Award was directed to the direct provision of these commodities: a good fridge for the oxytocin (and vaccines of course) and a training package to update providers on the use, dosage and storage of these supplies.

The Family Planning Community has this saying “no product no program”. It is time to start using a similar phrase that includes maternal health supplies as part of a holistic approach to safe motherhood.

 

This post is part of the blog series “Increasing access to maternal and reproductive health supplies: Leveraging lessons learned in preventing maternal mortality,” hosted by the Maternal Health Task Force, Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition/Maternal Health Supplies CaucusFamily Care International and the USAID-Accelovate program at Jhpiego which discusses the importance and methods of reaching women with lifesaving reproductive and maternal health supplies in the context of the proposed new global target of fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 births by 2030. To contribute a post, contact Katie Millar.

 

 

The myth of the meager maternal health market

By Deepti Tanuku, Program Director, USAID-Accelovate

This post originally appeared on the Maternal Health Task Force blog.

pakistan mother maternal health quality care facility smile woman pakistani
Mother in Sindh, Pakistan receiving quality care. Photo: Jhpiego.

When I first entered this line of work, I often heard one thing: the maternal health market is way too small to be sustainable, much less lucrative. Naturally, one can only expect market failure for maternal health drugs and, by extension, a chronic situation of limited access to lifesaving medicines among those most in need.

However, I disagree.

The maternal health market is, of course, comparatively small when looking at the parallel markets for reproductive health, HIV, TB, malaria and even child health.

Take malaria for example. Prepared technical guidance provided by the President’s Malaria Initiative states that the unit cost for delivery of long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs) provided free of charge through antenatal clinics in four countries ranged from US $1.61 to $2.35 – which is roughly equivalent to the unit cost of US $1.50 for a delivery package of the three essential maternal health medicines: oxytocin, misoprostol and magnesium sulfate. However, in 2014 an estimated 214 million long-lasting insecticidal nets were delivered to malaria-endemic countries in Africa, while only 36 million women gave birth in the same region that same year. As any business school student can tell you, applying the formula of Price x Quantity = Revenue means that the maternal health market simply doesn’t compare in size.

This is the origin of the myth. For those of us committed to the goal of improved maternal health, we cannot confuse a small market with an unhealthy market – small can still mean healthy. Small can and should still mean a consistent and sustainable supply of high-quality and affordable maternal health drugs to all mothers in all settings.

There is a catch. The maternal health community cannot wait for market realities to drift toward our favor – we must actively and purposefully shape them. This begins with strong political will at both global and national levels. The creation of the UN Commission on Lifesaving Commodities for Women and Children is an excellent start, as is the inclusion of maternal health within the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition (RHSC) agenda. These actions complement the ongoing efforts of other groups in this space, including the Maternal Health Task Force, itself.

The good news is that in the context of strong political will, there is plenty of research to shape evidence-based next steps. Together, we have built a clear understanding of market access barriers and we even know ways to incentivize around them. We also have market shaping strategies from other priority health areas, such as family planning, that serve as blueprints that we can adapt for our own purposes. As the maternal health community, it is up to us to use these tools to advocate for and help ourselves.

Finally, it’s good to revisit why this issue is critically important. Several studies and reports have demonstrated time and time again that healthy mothers strengthen families, societies and a nation’s economic development, which, in turn, strengthen a nation’s markets. Let’s say that again: Healthy mothers strengthen markets. It’s time markets returned the favor.

Resources used in the writing of this post:

This post is part of the blog series “Increasing access to maternal and reproductive health supplies: Leveraging lessons learned in preventing maternal mortality,” hosted by the Maternal Health Task Force, Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition/Maternal Health Supplies CaucusFamily Care International and the USAID-Accelovate program at Jhpiego which discusses the importance and methods of reaching women with lifesaving reproductive and maternal health supplies in the context of the proposed new global target of fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 births by 2030. To contribute a post, contact Katie Millar.

Improving Access to Maternal Health Commodities through a Systems Approach: Where are we now?

 

By Beth Yeager, Principal Technical Advisor, Management Sciences for Health & Chair, Maternal Health Supplies Caucus, Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition. This post originally appeared on the Maternal Health Task Force Blog.

This post is part of the blog series “Increasing access to maternal and reproductive health supplies: Leveraging lessons learned in preventing maternal mortality,” hosted by the Maternal Health Task Force, Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition/Maternal Health Supplies CaucusFamily Care International and the USAID-Accelovate program at Jhpiego which discusses the importance and methods of reaching women with lifesaving reproductive and maternal health supplies in the context of the proposed new global target of fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 births by 2030. To contribute a post, contact Katie Millar.

Nearly three years ago, I blogged about a systems approach to improving access for a Maternal Health Task Force (MHTF) series on maternal health commodities:

Increasing access to essential medicines and supplies for maternal health requires a systems approach that includes: improving governance of pharmaceutical systems, strengthening supply chain management, increasing the availability of information for decision-making, developing appropriate financing strategies and promoting rational use of medicines and supplies.

It was an exciting year for maternal health. The UN Commission on Life-Saving Commodities for Women and Children (UNCoLSC) had just released its report with 10 recommendations for improving access to 13 priority commodities that included 3 for maternal health: oxytocin, misoprostol and magnesium sulfate.  The UNCoLSC report also reflected the idea that a systems approach was necessary and included recommendations related to both upstream and downstream supply chain bottlenecks, information, financing and appropriate use. That same year, the Maternal Health Supplies Caucus of the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition held its first membership meeting in October for the purpose of joining the maternal health and family planning communities to “draw on existing approaches to address the bottlenecks undermining commodity security across health systems.”

Since then, great progress has been made in identifying the bottlenecks to access, raising awareness of the complexity of addressing these challenges and increasing global commitment to ending preventable maternal deaths as part of the post-2015 development agenda.

Improving governance

With respect to governance, through the efforts of the UNCoLSC to promote coordinated national strategies for Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (RMNCH), the need for coordinated planning among all stakeholders, including measures of accountability, has come to the forefront.

Reviewing national policies — such as the essential medicines lists and standard treatment guidelines — and advocating for the inclusion of the three priority maternal health medicines in these policies has raised awareness of both the need to harmonize policies at the national level and the challenges to implementing these policies.

Recognition of the importance of the regulatory role governments play in ensuring the quality of products in circulation in the public and private sectors has also grown. In a recent study conducted by the USAID-funded Systems for Improved Access to Pharmaceuticals and Services program (SIAPS) in Bangladesh, we found that over 40% of the oxytocin in circulation at the district level was procured from local wholesalers.

Strengthening supply chain management

In terms of supply chain challenges, resources are now available to assist countries in more accurate forecasting for maternal health medicines. The Estimation of Unmet Medical Need for Essential Maternal Health Medicines developed by SIAPS (a project led by Management Sciences for Health with partners) presents an approach that allows national program managers and other key stakeholders to assess a country’s theoretical need for the three maternal health commodities and compare this with actual procurement data from past years in an effort to make more evidence-based decisions. The RMNCH quantification guidance developed by the Supply Chain Technical Resource Team of the UNCoLSC also includes the three maternal health medicines.

Information for decision making

Over the past three years, we have also learned how little information is readily available about these commodities and the conditions they are meant to treat at the country level. In many cases, logistic management information systems do not capture these three products (and many others necessary for maternal health). Likewise, health information systems do not necessarily capture the number of women who develop post-partum hemorrhage and are successfully treated. Efforts are currently underway in a number of countries to address this problem.

The global community has learned a lot these past three years and made great progress in further revealing the actions required to increase access to quality medicines and supplies for maternal health. With the current proposed target of ending preventable maternal deaths by 2030, global and national stakeholders need to continue their coordinated efforts to build stronger, more responsive systems.

Beth Yeager, MHS, is Principal Technical Advisor, SIAPS program, at Management Sciences for Health (MSH), Chair Maternal Health Supplies Caucus, Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition

Making connections: Ensuring access to reproductive and maternal health supplies

Shafia Rashid is Senior Program Officer for Global Advocacy at Family Care International. This post originally appeared on the Maternal Health Task Force blog.

This post is part of the blog series “Increasing access to maternal and reproductive health supplies: Leveraging lessons learned in preventing maternal mortality,” hosted by the Maternal Health Task Force, Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition/Maternal Health Supplies CaucusFamily Care International and the USAID-Accelovate program at Jhpiego which discusses the importance and methods of reaching women with lifesaving reproductive and maternal health supplies in the context of the proposed new global target of fewer than 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 births by 2030. To contribute a post, contact Katie Millar.

The past ten years have witnessed impressive gains in the availability and use of reproductive health supplies like condoms and oral contraceptives that allow men and women to safely and effectively prevent or space pregnancies. As a result of concerted efforts by many partners, contraceptive prevalence rates have risen over 60% in countries around the world.

These dramatic successes in improving access to reproductive health supplies can shed important lessons and guidance for those working to ensure that life-saving maternal health medicines — including, oxytocin, misoprostol and magnesium sulfate — are available to all women, when they need them and wherever they give birth. These medicines — which can save lives by preventing or treating the leading causes of maternal death — remain out of reach for many women, particularly for poor, rural, indigenous and other vulnerable women. Many countries lack clear, supportive policies and adequate budgets to make essential maternal health medicines widely available, or have weak supply chains and logistical systems. Inadequate regulatory capacity, poor quality of medicines and lack of information and guidance on correct use are other barriers to access.

In order to summarize lessons learned and provide concrete tools to improve access to maternal health supplies, the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition tasked Family Care International to create seven policy briefs that show policy makers and program managers real-world examples of successful interventions. Importantly, there is a brief dedicated to each of the three most critical maternal health supplies: oxytocin, misoprostol and magnesium sulfate. Other briefs cover the cross-cutting issues of policy and financing, supply and demand generation.

Lessons learned from successful efforts to improve access to family planning commodities can help to effectively address the challenges related to maternal health medicines. Family planning advocates have, for example, tracked government expenditures on reproductive health supplies: in Indonesia, budget analysis and concerted advocacy led the mayors of five districts to increase their family planning budgets by as much as 80%. Similarly, many countries — including Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Paraguay — have established contraceptive security committees that bring together multiple supply chain stakeholders to support coordination, address long-term product availability issues and reduce duplication and inefficiencies. These committees have advocated for increased financial support for contraceptives, improved inventory management, developed standard operating procedures, published reports and provided technical assistance. These efforts to increase budgets and ensure commodity security for contraceptives can be effectively adapted and expanded to improve financing and security for maternal health supplies as well.

A wide range of tools and resources can support countries in strengthening their forecasting, procurement and other supply chain functions. Tools originally developed with a sole focus on reproductive health supplies now include or can be adapted to apply to maternal health supplies as well and can be used by country managers working to improve the supply of maternal health medicines.

Finally, many countries are moving toward integrating their supply chains to include family planning commodities and other essential medicines, including medicines for maternal health. In Ethiopia, for instance, the government (with the support of in-country partners) integrated their supply chain to include all health commodities and to connect all levels of the supply chain with accurate and timely data for decision-making. In Nicaragua, where the supply chain was separated vertically by health issue and type of commodity until 2005, the health ministry has integrated the essential medicines system with the contraceptives’ supply chain and has now fully automated the system and expanded it to include all essential medicines.

There are many parallels and potential synergies between reproductive and maternal health supply chains and processes. The reproductive and maternal health communities must take the following actions to address the interrelated barriers that prevent access to and use of life-saving commodities:

  • Advocate for development and implementation of supportive policies at the national and sub-national levels,
  • Advocate for dedicated budget lines to enable monitoring and evaluation of policy implementation
  • Improve government systems and procedures for procuring high-quality medicines and maintaining their quality throughout the supply chain
  • Invest in a streamlined, coordinated supply chain across sectors and levels, reducing inefficiency and duplicative efforts
  • Strengthen the knowledge and skills of health providers so that they are aware of evidence-based policies and guidelines and can effectively administer these essential medicines

More information can be found in Essential Medicines for Maternal Health: Ensuring Equitable Access for All, a set of briefs that highlight challenges and strategies for increasing the availability of these maternal health medicines and identify linkages with reproductive health supplies. You can download the Essential Medicines for Maternal Health policy briefs in English, French and Spanish.

MamaMiso: A simple medicine provides hope to Uganda mothers

By Andrew Weeks and Shafia Rashid

Andrew Weeks is Professor of Women’s and Children’s Health at the University of Liverpool and the Principal Investigator of the MamaMiso study. Shafia Rashid is a senior program officer at Family Care International (FCI). Through research and advocacy, FCI works with Gynuity Health Projects and other partners to support increased access to and availability of misoprostol for prevention and treatment of postpartum hemorrhage. 

Sarah Nerima was working on her banana plantation when she went into labor. Unable to reach a health center – the nearest was 6 miles away – Sarah gave birth in the fields, attended only by her mother-in-law. Already a mother of two, she had bled heavily in each of her previous deliveries, and she was afraid that a hemorrhage could take her life, leaving three motherless children.

For the 50% of women in rural Uganda who, like Sarah, give birth outside a health facility, a simple, safe and effective medicine, called misoprostol, can prevent or stop life-threatening bleeding. Misoprostol is a medicine that comes in tablet form, can be stored without refrigeration, and be administered without any specialized skills. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends misoprostol for the prevention and treatment of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) in settings where the standard of care, oxytocin – which requires cold storage and is administered by injection – is not available or cannot safely be used. WHO also recommends that misoprostol can be administered by community health workers for PPH prevention when skilled health providers are not present.

Some countries with high rates of non-facility births distribute misoprostol at antenatal care visits to women directly (a strategy called ‘advance distribution’), but WHO – citing unanswered questions about the safety and effectiveness of self-administered misoprostol in home births – has held off on recommending advance distribution, calling for additional research.

In Uganda, a research team from the University of Liverpool, Gynuity Health Projects, and Makerere University has tested the safety and feasibility of this community-based distribution model. MamaMiso, as this 2012 study was aptly called, provided misoprostol tablets to pregnant women for self-administration immediately after childbirth to prevent bleeding. Working in 200 villages in Mbale district, Eastern Uganda, the research team recruited women who came for antenatal care at Mbale Regional Referral Hospital or 3 large health centres (Busiu, Lwangoli and Siira) nearby.

Every pregnant woman at more than 34 weeks of gestation living in the recruitment villages was eligible to participate. Each participant was given a small purse, with a string that could be hung around the neck, containing 3 foil-packed tablets (600 micrograms misoprostol or placebo). Women were told to bring the purse home, to keep it with them, and to swallow the pills immediately after birth if they delivered at home. They were given an instruction sheet with written and pictorial instructions on how to take the tablets. Women were advised not to take the tablets if they went to a health facility for their delivery. Each participant was visited at 3 to 5 days after birth to check whether she had taken the medicine and to collect clinical outcomes.

MamaMiso’s results showed that self-administration of misoprostol is safe, and that advance distribution during antenatal care has the potential to increase the number of women who receive a medicine to prevent PPH. Of the women who enrolled in the research study, 57% gave birth at a facility and 43% delivered at home. Of those women who delivered at home, almost all (97%) took the study medicine after childbirth. Only 2 women (0.3%) took the medicine prior to delivery, and neither suffered adverse effects. Women who took misoprostol did experience fever and shivering, but they found these side effects to be acceptable.

These findings, together with results from other studies examining community-level use of misoprostol, have spurred national stakeholders to take action. The national Ugandan ob-gyn society has called for updating the national guidelines on PPH prevention to recommend community use of misoprostol, specifically enabling women to receive misoprostol as part of antenatal care. ‘We cannot continue to let women die when we have the solutions,’ said Dr. Charles Kiggundu, vice president of the Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Uganda. ‘The hindrance to using scientifically proven drugs is with health workers, not the women.”

Sarah Nerima was one of the women included in the MamaMiso study. After delivering her baby daughter among the banana trees, she opened her MamaMiso purse, and took the pills. “The bleeding was very, very little this time”, she said, “As you see, I am already very strong.”

Sarah had her MamaMiso purse with her when she gave birth, and took the misoprostol pills. In contrast to her 2 previous deliveries, she did not experience heavy bleeding, and she and her baby came through the childbirth safely.
Sarah had her MamaMiso purse with her when she gave birth, and took the misoprostol pills. In contrast to her 2 previous deliveries, she did not experience heavy bleeding, and she and her baby came through the childbirth safely.

Maternal health supplies ARE reproductive health supplies

Shafia Rashid is senior program officer for global advocacy at Family Care International.

In late October, the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition (RHSC) held its annual membership meeting in Mexico City. Representatives from governments, international organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and civil society came together to press for greater and more equitable access to reproductive health supplies. The RHSC’s focus includes family planning commodities, such as condoms, oral contraceptives, and other methods that allow men and women to safely and effectively prevent or space pregnancies.

MH supplies briefs coverThis was my first time attending the annual RHSC meeting. I was there because the Coalition has expanded its mandate to explicitly address maternal health supplies. Earlier this year, it commissioned FCI to develop a series of seven policy briefs, Essential Medicines for Maternal Health: Ensuring Equitable Access for All, which were launched at the Mexico City meeting. These briefs highlight challenges and strategies for increasing the availability of three maternal health medicines – oxytocin, misoprostol, and magnesium sulfate – and:

  • Make the case for increasing priority and investment in these medicines
  • Provide examples of successful strategies from around the world
  • Highlight linkages with reproductive health supplies

A special plenary session addressed this crucial question: How are maternal health supplies reproductive health supplies? This sparked a wide-ranging, engaging, and very interesting discussion. Here are some of the key points that emerged:

  • Many countries can already see clear value in linking reproductive and maternal health supplies, and are moving toward integrating their supply chains to include family planning commodities and essential medicines, including medicines for maternal health. In Ethiopia, for instance, the government (with the support of in-country partners) integrated their supply chain to include all health commodities and to connect all levels of the supply chain with accurate and timely data for decision-making. In Nicaragua, where the supply chain was vertical until 2005, the health ministry has integrated the essential medicines system with the contraceptives’ supply chain, which has now been automated and expanded to include all essential medicines.
  • The RHSC and other partners have developed a wide range of tools and resources to support countries in strengthening their forecasting, procurement, and other supply chain functions. Tools originally developed with a sole focus on reproductive health supplies now include or can be adapted to apply to maternal health supplies as well, so they can now be used by country managers working to improve the supply of maternal health medicines.
  • Lessons learned from successes in improving access to family planning commodities can help us to effectively address the challenges related to maternal health medicines. Family planning advocates have, for example, tracked government expenditures on reproductive health supplies: in Indonesia, budget analysis and concerted advocacy led the mayors of five districts to increase their family planning budgets by as much as 80%. Similarly, many countries — including Bolivia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Paraguay – have established contraceptive security committees that bring together multiple supply chain stakeholders to support coordination, address long-term product availability issues, and reduce duplication and inefficiencies. These committees have advocated for increased financial support for contraceptives, improved inventory management, developed standard operating procedures, published reports, and provided technical assistance. These efforts to increase budgets and ensure commodity security for contraceptives can effectively adapted and expanded to improve financing and security for maternal health supplies as well.

Many parallels and potential synergies exist between maternal and reproductive health supplies, and the reproductive and maternal health communities must take action to address the interrelated barriers that prevent access to and use of life-saving commodities. These actions include:

  • Advocating for development and implementation of supportive policies at the national and sub-national levels, and for dedicated budget lines to enable monitoring and evaluation of policy implementation
  • Improving government systems and procedures for procuring high-quality medicines and maintaining their quality throughout the supply chain
  • Investing in a streamlined, coordinated supply chain across sectors and levels, reducing inefficiency and duplicative efforts
  • Strengthening the knowledge and skills of health providers so that they are aware of evidence-based policies and guidelines and can effectively administer these essential medicines

→ For more information, you can download the Essential Medicines for Maternal Health policy briefs here.

1403042_558245034275265_2295601766773530020_o
Panelists at the plenary session, RHSC annual meeting, October 2014 Photo: RHSC